Turkey Minestrone

Turkey Minestrone

Do you have a container of frozen turkey from the holidays in the freezer?

Just a short drive from our house in Colorado Springs is our favorite Italian market and deli Mollica’s, which is perhaps best known as a popular, packed lunch spot on Garden of the Gods Road just west of I-25. Mollica’s is the happy kind of place that still serves old school “red sauce” meals like spaghetti and meatballs or a very good lasagna (all made with fresh pasta) as well as yummy pizza and calzone — though I couldn’t call it a “pizza place.” A large part of the lunch menu has always been devoted to stellar sandwiches (think grinders from house made sausage, scratch meatballs, heroes, and hot Italian beef) and a full line of filling salads that of course are served with fresh bread and butter. While I’m ready to eat anything Mollica’s makes –check out their dinner specials, too — I nearly always choose a salad because I can also get a cup of their minestrone–a simple and herby vegetable soup that just hits the sweet spot in my tummy. Occasionally I wonder why I don’t make some minestrone at home, but for some reason, I rarely do. That just changed.

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Two Cheese-Broccoli Soup

Two Cheese-Broccoli Soup

Staffordshire CALICO blue plate and bowl

Sometimes I know a couple of weeks ahead what’s coming up on the blog. Occasionally I even cook, write a recipe, take photos, and keep a post for the next season. For the last year, however, I have mostly begun working on the next week’s food within a day or two of the last post, photographing, writing, editing, and rewriting right up until my usual, but occasionally fluctuating deadline. In this case, the “Frozen Bailey’s Mochaccino” (Did you make it?!) wasn’t dry on the page before I was making this soup. I was interested in and then thoroughly inspired by a post of Nigella Lawson’s, “Broccoli and Stilton Soup” on twitter. (I’ve just looked back at it and see she’s even encouraged readers to use whatever cheeses they have on hand — just as I do here! Great minds think alike 😉 ) There was literally and figuratively a bunch of broccoli in the fridge and broccoli cheese soup of some sort, if not totally blue-cheesy, was sounding good for Meatless Monday. Well, the soup was grand if I do say so myself. I even had the recipe written and some decent photos in the can. I did, however, forget to note a couple of key elements like the weight of the broccoli, for instance. Hello, honey!! No choice: I re-ordered the ingredients, made the soup a second time (now as a first course before mushroom pork chops on date night), followed my own recipe weighing everything, and got it all straight for you.

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Frozen Bailey’s Mochaccino

Frozen Bailey’s Mochaccino

For some believers, Christmas only begins December 25. I’m one of those or rather, I work at it. The world often conspires against me, I think. Still, the tree stays up until the Wise People arrive on January 6 (Epiphany) and you can bet there are still Christmas movies for husband Dave and me to watch until then. (We still have “Christmas with the Kranks,” “Christmas in Connecticut,” and “Fred Claus” — at least — to go.) So while other folks have frozen their hambones and relegated the Christmas lights to the dusty garage attic, there is still a (no longer quite so fresh) plate of cookies on the counter, holiday candles lit nightly, and we are committed to enjoying it all for a few more days. As one of my favorite cook-writers Dorie Greenspan said in yesterday’s NYTimes Magazine, introducing her recipe for Mulling-Spice Cake with Cream-Cheese Frosting, “Like most people, I’m sad this year.” I get it. Me, too. I was so glad for Christmas to come along in the midst of all the angst and division and fear — even if it arrived without all the regular bells and whistles. I guess I want it to last as long as it can. For there to be candy canes, inflatable Santas, cheese spread with crackers, and carols booming for just a bit more time. To look out on my deck and still see the colored lights if I wander up in the middle of the night…

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Colorado Yellow Split Pea Soup for New Year’s Day —                                 Got Hambone?

Colorado Yellow Split Pea Soup for New Year’s Day — Got Hambone?

If you drove through Colorado north to south and west to east, you would be fairly amazed at the amount of farmland in the state most often thought of as full of rocky mountains or The Rocky Mountains! You would also be overwhelmed with the beauty of our land.

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Christmas Breakfast Casserole with a Za’atar Bloody Mary

Christmas Breakfast Casserole with a Za’atar Bloody Mary

Turn on a “Cozy Christmas Coffee Shop … Christmas Jazz Music…” while you read.

Christmas breakfast should be, without a doubt, nearly carefree. That being said, it must also be delectable, desirable, and delightful all the while taking care of itself while you open gifts, listen to A CHRISTMAS CAROL, or zoom with the family or friends. Egg breakfast or brunch casseroles — also known as stratas — fit the bill perfectly and are endlessly adaptable to ingredients on hand. This bacon (ham? sausage? veggie crumbles? chorizo?) version topped with brightly colored chopped peppers (mushrooms? tomatoes? jalapeños? zucchini? fennel?) provides six or eight servings but is also perfect for a smaller group who also might enjoy leftovers. That would be us. Though we are rarely at home alone for Christmas, we are this year as are many people all over the world. We’ll make our brunch dish a day ahead, of course, bake it on Christmas morning, and enjoy it over the whole weekend. We might even freeze a couple of pieces for an easy weekend brunch in January.

Serving one? Halve the recipe, which works perfect in an 8 or 9-inch square casserole dish. Relish for a couple of days, share, or freeze.

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Nutcracker Granola

Nutcracker Granola

When you invite someone to go to “The Nutcracker,” it goes without saying it’ll be one of the events of the season complete with everyone dressed in their best holiday duds and ready for a yummy tea or fancy dinner before or after. It’s a special occasion and worth every bit of the extra effort it takes to get little girls’ hair tied up with ribbons or talking the teenager into some shoes besides banged up sneakers or clunker boots — even if you’re watching from the comfort of your own couch this year:

Your Guide to Streaming “The Nutcracker” in 2020/PLAYBILL

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Lorna’s Peppermint Stars

Lorna’s Peppermint Stars

You will never walk into my house to find me without cookies. If they’re not sitting there in plain sight, they’ll be found in the door of the freezer frozen and ready for the exact moment when the ice cold glass of milk is poured. This is, after all, Colorado, where cookies turn into hockey pucks 30 minutes after they’ve hit the cooling rack. I’m not particularly a cookie monster, but those of you who know him well recognize I’m married to one. And one truth I’ll share is this: I love to bake cookies. There’s a sweet comfort to the rhythm and rhyme of beating up butter and sugar, a zen atmosphere when time is suspended as they bake (I can’t answer the phone/let the cat in/check your homework; I’m baking cookies), and the perfect control I exhibit when they’re cooling (I’ll will slap your hand with this wooden spoon if you grab one while they’re still that hot. They must set, for God’s sake.)

Listen to HIGHLAND CHRISTMAS/The McCallans while you read or bake.

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Salmon Puttanesca

Salmon Puttanesca

Bright, briny, and brilliantly bolstered with happy heat, Pasta Puttanesca is a favorite amongst cooks short on time and big on hunger. Garlicky tomatoes, onions, salty anchovies, olives and capers, along with herbs and a little wine for good measure, all come together quickly in a hot pot and are typically ladled on top of a bowl of steaming pasta topped with grated cheese and fresh parsley or basil. If you’ve made the sauce and had a little leftover in the fridge, you know it’s also good next morning on grilled bread or scrambled eggs or even just cold in your spoon.

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Cornish Hens with Cranberry Cornbread-Brown Rice Dressing:  Thanksgiving for One or Two

Cornish Hens with Cranberry Cornbread-Brown Rice Dressing: Thanksgiving for One or Two

Printable recipe and an “Elevator” Version below

I always forget about Cornish hens and then when I make them, I can’t believe I let so much time go by without putting these festive little birds on the menu. They’re quick, inexpensive, and versatile — especially when you’re cooking for one or two for Thanksgiving. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of a bunch of side dishes, you can even cook your potatoes and vegetables such as carrots, onions, halved Brussels sprouts, chunks of zucchini, or diced butternut squash right in the pan with them. I include directions for the easy carrots and spinach from the photo in the printable recipe. And even cooler is the simple pan sauce stirred up in the roasting pan while the hens rest and you pour the wine. No Good Gravy! worries. While a one-pan Thanksgiving always sounds nigh unto impossible, you can actually do it if that’s your druthers. That’s an easy clean up, too. On your own this year? I’d still advise cooking two Cornish hens … you want leftovers, right? I mean, the best part of Thanksgiving is the I-don’t-have-to-cook next day sandwich with mayo on white bread. Right after the pumpkin pie for breakfast, that is. Don’t skip the whipped cream.

Check out Perdue Farms’ THE ULTIMATE GUIDE/How to Cook Cornish Hens if you’d like to grill, slow cook, fry, smoke or…your birds.

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Sweet Potato Soup

Sweet Potato Soup

At our house, marshmallows are saved for hot chocolate when our daughter Emily is home. I’ve never put them on sweet potatoes, though if someone else served up that inescapable casserole, I’d be polite and have a bite or two. I offer up an apology to all those gooey-sweet sweet potato fans out there and make mine the way I like them, which is thoroughly mashed up with butter, sherry, just a little brown sugar, and eggs. Top that with walnuts and bake a half hour while the bird rests and I’m in Thanksgiving heaven. The recipe is called a soufflĂ©, but I’d say that’s stretching it. Leftovers, are, of course, perfect spooned up cold right out of the refrigerator or heated up in a skillet with a fried egg cooked in the center.

Sweet Potato Soufflé with Sherry and Walnuts/Cooks.com

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